05 Feb Garrucha: one town, two worlds
I think I mentioned Garrucha in an earlier post and I think I said I would write more about it by and by. I’ve been struggling a bit with Garrucha; there’s something odd about the place. From our cortijo we look across to it every day so it’s always ‘there’; there across the coastal plain that cradles the base of the sierra and stretches to the Med. The occasional rocky hillock breaks the contours of this flat expanse of scrubby land, as if the majestic sierra coughed and spluttered just before submitting to the sea. At first, I saw only the arid, bareness with sparse patches of green where crops huddle in a spirit of optimism and look out of place. But on further visits I’ve looked again and more closely to see there are small plantations of olives too, a species that seems able to thrive in the least obliging soil.
Parched and pale with dust, the plain hosts the communities of Turre, Mojacar (on a very dramatic conical rocky outcrop) and Garrucha. Quite difficult to know where one place ends and the next one begins as the blocks of flats that predominate have infiltrated the spaces that used to separate one village from the other. It’s like ‘community creep’ – except that it’s not clear what the ‘community’ is. So many of these blocks are empty, metal Venetian-style window blinds pulled tightly shut; gates locked; nobody at home. And I guess that’s what I find odd about Garrucha – indeed about any and all of these places – that it’s difficult to see or feel what the community is and what it would be like to live here.
Garrucha is the furthest north of these three communities and the biggest sprawl. In fact, as we discovered the day we did our Walk to Tenerife (see the last post), the sprawl continues north along the coast, almost uninterrupted at least as far as Villaricos (about 12 km) and possibly further. As you approach Garrucha across the coastal plain, you’re struck by the ugliness of the place with its barren foreground, dusty in the heat, the buildings verging on the plain looking equally barren, monotonous regularity of design, bleak enough on a warm winter’s day, unimaginable at the height of summer. I guess it’s here that people come to spend their 2 weeks soaking up the relentless Spanish summer sun that scorches the earth at 40 degrees plus. It must be punishing: too hot to be outside, so marooned indoors with the aircon at full blast and a view across the thirsty wasteland towards the A7 motorway and, beyond that, in the hazy, heat-hacked distance, the sierras. Am I selling it to you?
This was my first impression of Garrucha on a brief trip to the supermarket there. Yes, I know, all very banal. We drove along the shore road to the northern end of the town, passing the port area where a massive rusty tanker was moored. It’s not a big port, not a pretty port, it’s a dock and that first day it was looking more industrial than nautical. But there were just one or two signs that there might be more to Garrucha, so I resisted the temptation of a tirade. A second trip (another Correos expedition) revealed a more charming side to Garrucha – and not just because the Correos experience was positive. We parked on the ‘front’ where, this time, the dock was empty allowing unbroken views of a sparkling calm Mediterranean and the wonderful breakwater of natural un-dressed stone, as if the result of evolution rather than a construction by the hand of man. The buildings on the sea-facing side of town are older, more graceful, more varied and somehow tempered by time; palm trees planted at regular intervals give shade, shape and colour; a marina of little boats nestles beside the port on its northern edge. A small but elegant Casa Consistorial stands in a half enclosed square near the port, freshly painted in regulation white and yellow, cared for, as these town halls always are. The ‘front’ is so long that we decided to ask for directions to the Correos – a couple of plump workmen in overalls were happy to help, one giving verbal directions, the other signing and miming, both fortunately agreeing on the route. One street back from the ‘front’ (if that doesn’t sound too confusing) is the main street of small shops, un-glitzy, a modest street, untouristed at this time of year. There’s a grocer, hairdresser, the odd cafe, shops selling clothes, toys, light bulbs and plugs. A feature of Spanish towns is the presence of several ‘farmacias’. Garrucha is no exception with at least one on this main street, as ever busy, thronging with people queuing at the counter – the sick or the hypochondriacs, who knows, but one is anxious about the nation’s health. And, of course, being Spain, there are lots of shoe shops – a slight worry as I live with the male world’s equivalent of Imelda Marcos so I’m not sure we’ll get out of here without some new and obviously essential bit of footwear being acquired.
So Garrucha has had a reprieve. With each visit I come to quite like the place. Once you’re in it and past the forbidding entrance at the edge of the plain and beyond the imposing Lidl where all the customers are Ingleses, yes all of them, you start to see its charms. It’s being spoiled by the holiday development wrought in its hinterland over the years, but perhaps that’s what has preserved it too, made it viable still. And how much of my own prejudice I bring is clearly an issue here – my prejudice against this kind of holiday apartment conglomeration, the over-development; against the brutalism of mostly British tourism that has so transformed this region and countless other coastal regions of Spain; my largely untested (but perhaps not unfounded) assumptions about expatriate Brits. We have speculated, as we gaze out from our hillside, how it would be possible to live here…. and concluded that for us it wouldn’t.
Thus far (and I have to admit this is an unscientific sampling) there is no sign that the indigenes and the immigrantes mingle at all. And maybe they don’t need to; there’s enough of each for two parallel communities to coexist. And that’s the thing that strikes you, that really there are two worlds here. Garrucha sums it up: there’s the Garrucha that faces the sea and the Garrucha that faces the plain. Two Garruchas, two communities, two worlds. You just have to accept it and recognise that it’s a symbiosis and it’s probably here to stay – at least until the sun scorches even more and the water flows even less and the patches of green shrivel up and even the olives gasp.